Are Other Languages As Tricky As English?

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  1. English's irregular spellings and pronunciations make it a very difficult language for new learners to master.

    This poem highlights the oddities in English. It's called The Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenité (1922). It's MUCH longer than I've cut and pasted below. Read it all here: or another variation here:

    Dearest creature in creation
    Studying English pronunciation,
    I will teach you in my verse
    Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

    I will keep you, Susy, busy,
    Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
    Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear;
    Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

    Pray, console your loving poet,
    Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
    Just compare heart, hear and heard,
    Dies and diet, lord and word.

    and sward, retain and Britain
    (Mind the latter how it's written).
    Made has not the sound of bade,
    Say-said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.

    Now I surely will not plague you
    With such words as vague and ague,
    But be careful how you speak,
    Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

    Previous, precious, fuchsia, via

    Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
    Woven, oven, how and low,
    Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

    Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
    Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
    Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
    Missiles, similes, reviles.

    , holly, signal, signing,
    Same, examining, but mining,
    Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
    Solar, mica, war and far.

    From "desire": desirable-admirable from "admire",
    Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
    Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
    Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,

    , anemone, Balmoral,
    Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
    Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
    Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,

    Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
    Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
    This phonetic labyrinth
    Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

    Have you ever yet endeavoured
    To pronounce revered and severed,
    Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
    Peter, petrol and patrol?

    Billet does not end like ballet;
    Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
    Blood and flood are not like food,
    Nor is mould like should and would.

    is not nearly parquet,
    Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
    Discount, viscount, load and broad,
    Toward, to forward, to reward,

    Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
    Right! Your pronunciation's OK.
    Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
    Friend and fiend, alive and live.

    Is your r correct in higher?
    Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
    Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
    Buoyant, minute, but minute.

    Say abscission with precision,
    Now: position and transition;
    Would it tally with my rhyme
    If I mentioned paradigm?

    Twopence, threepence, tease
    are easy,
    But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
    Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
    Rabies, but lullabies.

    Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
    Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
    You'll envelop lists, I hope,
    In a linen envelope.

    Would you like some more? You'll have it!
    Affidavit, David, davit.
    To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
    Does not sound like Czech but ache.

    Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
    Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
    We say hallowed, but allowed,
    People, leopard, towed but vowed.

    Mark the difference, moreover,
    Between mover, plover, Dover.
    Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
    Chalice, but police and lice,

    Camel, constable, unstable,
    Principle, disciple, label.
    Petal, penal, and canal,
    Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

    , suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
    Rhyme with "shirk it" and "beyond it",
    But it is not hard to tell
    Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

    Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
    Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
    Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
    Senator, spectator, mayor,

    , privy, famous; clamour
    Has the a of drachm and hammer.
    Pussy, hussy and possess,
    Desert, but desert, address.

    Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
    Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
    Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
    Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

    "Solder, soldier!Blood is thicker",
    Quoth he, "than liqueur or liquor",
    Making, it is sad but true,
    In bravado, much ado.
    bellebellebelle19 likes this.

  2. ah. Well in that case I found majority of my Asian friends to be actually tone deaf. Lol. True story. They for the most part believe that they're the next rising star on America's got talent or whatever show for the undiscovered Whitney Houston / Mariah Carey wanna be. I can't make heads nor tails of it. They get an a for effort and a a+ for confidence but the talent is really not there. Karaoke machines are very popular too.
    That might be a cultural thing. In Europe, it's not that uncommon to be proficient in 3+ languages.

    When I was growing up in the states, my highschool would not let you graduate unless you knew another language. I don't know if this is still enforced.

    And in my home country, English is actually introduced in kindergarten.

    French is part of the Romantic languages and german is quite gutteral. No wonder you had a hard time learning. They're yin n yang.

    I find that it's easier to pick up other languages if you were raised in a multilingual household. I was raised with 3, am proficient in 5 but can operate comfortably in 7-9.
  3. I've joked that speaking French is easier when smoking--as mouth forms into shape needed. ;)

    To understand a culture gives insight into its languages--& vice versa.
    Boxermom: Hold tight to these passions. They give joy. :smile:
  4. I think English is pretty easy actually. And it's very popular in the world so it's easier to practice.
    German, Russian or French languages are more complicated. Arabic is complicated too.
    Off course I can't comment on mandarin or Japanese because I have never tried to learn them yet they look crazy complicated :biggrin:

    Once you know English and French it's easier to learn italian, Portuguese and Spanish though I don't speak those languages, I'm too lazy for that, lol.
  5. I think English is probably the most difficult language to learn.
  6. I've heard Dutch is also difficult for people to learn.
  7. As a Dane we are introduced to English from a very young age, both in school and on television. We learn it through many years so it is "easier" to grasp.
    We also learn German for minimally 3 years but it is much harder for people because of der/die/das and the cases of words which we don't have, in the same way, in Danish. I have learned German for almost six years but I still find cases difficult.
    I am also learning Mandarin and I would argue that it is very very very difficult. My problem with Mandarin is mainly written. When you are used to the latin alphabet, it can be very hard to learn languages that use hanzi etc.
  8. German... I've been studying the language and trying to learn it. The cases of nominativ, dativ and akkusativ boggle my mind. :wacko:
  9. I agree with you about German. I have been trying for a few years now. My husband was able to pick it up in high school & university. He speaks it fluently & I still have trouble. I can read it well.

    I tried Japanese 3 years ago for a year, but I could not grasp that at all!
  10. #25 Jan 16, 2015
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2015
    Languages with non-Latin letters are terribly hard to learn IMO. Arabic was very difficult for me. It also had a lot of sounds that are not present in English that I could never quite make right. There are also so many dialects of Arabic. I assume Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, etc. are difficult because of their alphabets. Theoretically languages in the same family should be easier to learn for speakers who already speak a language in that family. I speak Italian and I'm currently learning French, which should be easier as they are very similar, but honestly I find knowing Italian confuses me while learning French. I end up speaking a weird mix of French and Italian and often pronounce things wrong. Theoretically if you speak English German and Dutch shouldn't be that hard, because they're all Germanic languages, but in this thread people found German and Dutch hard. I took German in school and I definitely didn't take to it easily.
    French has the confusing homophones. I'd imagine a lot of languages do.
    Americans are particularly bad at learning other languages IMO because we've never been exposed to them and have never had to learn them. In other parts of the world countries that speak different languages are much closer by. Business has to be done with foreign countries that don't speak your language. They start learning foreign languages at a very young age. In the U.S. foreign languages are not emphasized in schools and everyone nearby speaks English. Where Americans travel, there are generally always English speakers. Most people don't start learning a second language, if they ever start at all, until they are a bit older, when it's harder to pick up. I'm quite jealous of people who can speak many languages. I've never been very good at them.
    The easiest way to learn a language IMO is to be immersed in the culture.
  11. I think English is the easiest western language I have come across. I think Chinese Mandarin, Cantonese, French, Spanish and Japanese are all much more difficult to gasp.

  12. +1
  13. I'm American. Having lived around this world & continuing to travel, I'm still quite happy to say that.

    I take your points, however--and agree US concentrates upon English. I believe this is changing, slowly. But, excellent point about geographic insulation(think this is term)--so, change may stay slow.
    Also agree that immersion is great aid to learning.
  14. I just read an article about difficulties in language learning. The focus of the article is in English speaking people learning other languages, the same might not apply to others. Also the focus is on my native tongue, Finnish, which is quite difficult to learn.

    According to the article, Arabic, Chinese (both Cantonese and Mandarin), Japanese and Korean are the most difficult languages for native English speakers. It will take approximately 88 weeks to learn them.

    Easiest languages, with just 22 weeks to learn, were French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Afrikaans and a few other similar languages.

    The data comes from here:
    (This is just one view, some other studies may show different results. This is mentioned in the web page.)

    Here's a funny example of my language, Finnish, I'm sure there are countless other examples :lol:
    The spruce is on fire = Kuusi palaa
    The spruce returns = Kuusi palaa
    The number six is on fire = Kuusi palaa
    The number six returns = Kuusi palaa
    Six of them are on fire = Kuusi palaa
    Six of them return = Kuusi palaa
    Your moon is on fire = Kuusi palaa
    Your moon returns = Kuusi palaa
    Six pieces = Kuusi palaa
  15. I speak four languages myself and honestly, aside from my native tongue, English was the easiest language to learn. German was faaaar worse. The grammar is very difficult if you're not a native speaker.
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